The blossoms of purple violets do wonderful things when added to water or vinegar. Here's what they look like in hot water (left) and white vinegar (right):
But I think the real gem of my violet experiments thus far is Violet Oxymel.
Oxymel is a complicated word for a simple concept: vinegar + honey = oxymel. As a general rule, oxymels are soothing for coughs and sore throats, and a lovely digestive tonic before or after a meal. They can either be enjoyed by the spoonful without dilution (deliciously sweet and sour), or stirred into a glass of warm or cold water. By infusing the vinegar with different herbs, a rather lively assortment of oxymels can be created. In this case, I used apple cider vinegar, violet blossoms, and local honey.
To make the infused vinegar, use a 1:1 ratio of violets and vinegar. In this case, I used a cup of each. After allowing the blossoms to steep in the vinegar for a week, strain the vinegar through a fine mesh sieve to remove the flowers. The apple cider vinegar won't display as much of a shocking color change, but it definitely takes on a reddish hue.
Once the honey has dissolved completely into the vinegar, the oxymel is ready to use! As a beverage, violet oxymel is especially refreshing over ice, but it makes a nice flavored water at room temperature, too.
- Use a layer of parchment paper under the lid if you are infusing the violets and vinegar in a canning jar. The vinegar will have a reaction with the metal in the lids and could drip nasty black oxidation into the infusing vinegar. Not tasty! Glass containers with non-reactive lids are definitely better if you have them.
- Pick violets around noon on a dry, sunny day. The fragrance of the flowers will be at its strongest under these conditions.
- Don't feel bad about picking all the blossoms you need. The purple flowers are just for show- they almost never set seeds! Violets grow a second set of tiny, green flowers in the fall that set seed prolifically. The violets will usually respond to harvesting by producing a second crop of purple flowers, so there will be plenty more in a few days anyway.
- Use just the blossoms- you don't need the stems.
Historical Background of Viola odorata
Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, is native to Europe but is very common through out much of the united states. It often grows in lawns and along woodland edges, although it can be hard to spot at first because of its small size. Violet has several properties that merit consideration for household use, especially because it is found so widely in backyards and vacant lots.
There are several culinary uses for Viola odorata. First, the above ground parts are edible. The young leaves can be used as a salad green or lightly steamed much like spinach, while the flowers can be candied, enjoyed as a fragrant tea, or used as a beautiful addition to salads. Violet syrup, also made from the blossoms, is a unique flavoring for desserts and beverages.
Beyond culinary uses, violet has a historical reputation for being expectorant, ant-inflammatory, diuretic, and alterative.The underground portions of violet should be used with caution if at all, as they have a reputation for being a a very strong purgative and emetic. The leaves and flowers, however, are gentle and mild enough that they were commonly given to children. As a children's herb, Violet was often used to encourage regular bowel movements or to soothe fevers.